I was in my garden last week surrounded by red and ripening tomatoes, and as I carefully placed them in a small basket, it reminded me of my childhood days when grandma and I would head to the big garden on the farm about this time of year. She would announce that it was time to can tomatoes and out we would go to pick a bushel or two.
Putting by (as grandma called it) homegrown food was an activity that my entire family participated in when I was a kid. Now days there’s a lot of hype about preserving your own food, as if it is a new phenomena, but that was what my kin just naturally did while I was growing up. Grandpa’s farm had a herd of dairy cows, chickens and sometimes a hog or two and these animals provided meals for a large clan that included my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. In addition there was also a big garden next to the house that the entire family ate from all summer long and once the first nip of fall was in the air, canning jars, lids and the big canning pot were fixtures on the kitchen counter.
I was always fascinated with the canning process and the results of this activity. Many people consider this work, but I never have. Yes, it does require organization, and an exacting eye toward directions, and sometimes a mess, but when all is said and done, and the counter is lined with jars filled with stewed tomatoes and sauce, glistening pickles and ruby-like jellies and jams, there is no greater satisfaction. And the rewards really pay off when you open up a jar of this goodness on a cold and snowy day remembering, and tasting, the fruits of the past summer months.
At our house, tomatoes were always canned in large quantities. We used them in chili, goulashes, soups and ate them straight from the jar. They were also made into sauces and one year my dad even tried to make catsup, but that resulted in a flunk explosion and an end to that particular recipe.
Pickles were another favorite. My Aunt Bunny made the tastiest watermelon pickles, and her sweet gherkins were the best. Every year she displayed her efforts on a big crystal plate at Christmas time, and I ate all these goodies in large quantities. Grandma also made a delicious pickle from green tomatoes, and this recipe comes in handy when the first frost is predicted and green tomatoes are profuse. My mother became known for her tangy Dilly Beans and this recipe continues to be a favorite even among the grandchildren and great grandchildren today. There were always jars of applesauce, pears and peaches and usually every year mom experimented with a new recipe and we would give it the thumbs up or down, depending on the outcome.
This week I’ve included a couple of thumbs up recipes. These have been in my family for many years and I continue to make them today. In fact, as I write this, the canner and a box of jars and lids are waiting on my kitchen counter. I’m starting off this year’s preserving season with a tomato canning marathon that will set me up for the winter months with this vegetable.
If you’ve never tried this way of preserving food give it a try. Even a few jars of a favorite vegetable will bring a great sense of satisfaction, and the fruits of your labor lined up on the kitchen counter will really impress guests. But best of all, you will be capturing a little bit of summer and fall in a jar and that will surely bring a smile to your face on those cold and snowy days which we all know are ahead.
Green Tomato Pickles
4 lbs. green tomatoes (2 qts. thinly sliced)
3 Tbs. canning/pickling salt
2 cups cider vinegar
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup sugar
3 Tbs. mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. celery seeds.
1 tsp. ground turmeric
3 cups thinly sliced onions
2 sweet red peppers, seeded and chopped
1 hot green pepper, seeded and chopped
Layer tomatoes and salt in 2 quart bowl of crock. Cover. Let stand at room temperature for 12 hours. Drain well. Combine vinegar, sugars, and spices in a 4 quart pot and bring to a boil. Add sliced onions and boil gently 5 minutes. Add drained tomatoes and peppers; bring slowly to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pack vegetables into 9 sterilized half-pint jars; cover with syrup, filling to within 1/4-inch of jar top. Wipe jar rim; place lids and screw bands. Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Start processing time when water in canner returns to boiling. Remove from canner and let cool. Lids will pop down when done correctly.
Mom’s Dilly Beans
2 lbs. green and yellow beans
1 tsp. red pepper
4 cloves garlic
4 large heads of dill
2 cups water
1/4 cup canning salt
2 cups cider vinegar
Wash and trim beans leaving whole. Pack into 4 sterilized pint jars, blossom ends down. To each pint add tsp. red pepper, 1 clove garlic and 1 head dill. Combine water, salt and vinegar in 2 quart saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil and then pour over beans. Wipe jar rims and place lids and rings. Process in boiling water bath 5 minutes. Start processing time when water returns to a boil after placing jars in the canner.